Hong Kong leader says city’s brain drain ‘unarguable’

Vincent Yu/Pool via REUTERS
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam listens to reporters’ questions during a news conference in Hong Kong on March 21, 2022.

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said it was “unarguable” that the global financial hub was seeing a brain drain due to stringent coronavirus rules, but said she valued the city’s international status and envisioned a “better development” after the pandemic.

Lam’s comments come amid a backlash from businesses and residents who see the rest of the world shifting to living with the virus while Hong Kong officially sticks to a “dynamic zero” COVID-19 strategy which seeks to curb all outbreaks as soon as they occur. Lam said no one valued the international status of Hong Kong more than herself, but the government had to adopt anti-pandemic measures to protect residents.

“These measures have certain influence on corporates and individuals, although we don’t have a figure…it’s an unarguable fact that we have a brain drain and some senior management of some corporates have left Hong Kong,” she told a daily news briefing on Wednesday.

“The most important thing is Hong Kong keeps its advantages. I believe after the pandemic, Hong Kong can have a better development.”

Lam said “streamlining” certain measures, including lifting a ban on flights from nine countries and reducing quarantine for arrivals from abroad, would help ease concerns about the city’s international status.

At the start of this year, Hong Kong implemented its most draconian measures since the pandemic began over two years ago, frustrating many residents who have been largely compliant with various COVID regulations in the hope of resuming travel internationally and with the mainland.

Hong Kong’s border has effectively been shut since 2020 with few flights able to land and hardly any passengers allowed to transit, isolating a city that had built a reputation as a global financial and travel hub.

Lam’s comments come just weeks before the city is due to hold an election on May 8 to choose who will lead the territory for the next five years.

She declined to comment on whether she will run for a new term.

The rules, together with mixed messaging from the government including whether a citywide lockdown and mass testing would take place, have triggered an exodus of residents in the past two months.

The former British colony has reported more than 1.1 million coronavirus infections and more than 7,500 deaths, most of them occurring in the past five weeks.